Cara Delevingne talks a lot about shame in Planet Sex, her new Hulu docuseries about sex and sexuality.
In the first episode, the openly queer model and actress talks about her discomfort with defining her sexuality and how internalized homophobia has affected her ability to live “a queer life.” In Episode 3, which explores gender identity, she discusses her discomfort and confusion with her own gender expression.
“I am a ‘she’ right now. But I also like dressing up as a man and being a ‘he.’ You don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself.”
It’s an odd, uncomfortable position from which to begin an odyssey into the world of sex parties, porn shoots, and masturbation workshops. But as the host of Planet Sex, Delevingne positions herself not so much as a guide but as a fellow traveler, her occasional confusion and the gaps in her knowledge allowing us as viewers to learn along with her.
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Shame and confusion, she seems to be telling us, are things many of us experience living in a heteronormative society that is at once obsessed with sex and hostile to talking about it in an informative, nonjudgmental way.
The antidote to that internalized shame is curiosity and enthusiasm, which Delevingne models charmingly, while also being forthright about her own boundaries, as when she has a Japanese artist create a model of her actual vagina but declines to show the resulting sculpture on camera.
The series is very much in the Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown mold and finds Delevingne crisscrossing the globe to explore different expressions of identity, different relationship models, and emerging science around sexual attraction and gender identity.
Some of those explorations feel glancing and even contradictory. An episode about sexual identity features a doctor whose work suggests that sexual orientation is rooted in biology and is fixed from birth, with Delevingne proclaiming that we’re “born this way.” In the same episode, however, another sexologist discusses research suggesting that women in particular experience much more fluid sexuality, generally, throughout their lives.
Disappointingly, the episode doesn’t address the impact any of this research could potentially have on the way queer people are viewed in society or on the political arguments for and against LGBTQ+ rights.
Its travelogue DNA makes Planet Sex feel a bit like a whirlwind tour of sexuality, with Delevingne dipping in and out of different subcultures and topics like a tourist getting just a taste of the local culture. It’s most effective when it drills down on specific topics like pornography.
One episode goes deep on porn, examining how the cis straight male gaze shapes so much of the graphic images of sexuality that proliferate online, and the effect that has on our ideas of sexuality. But it also acknowledges that there are other models for creating sexual imagery that is ethical as well as erotic, like Japan’s Boys Love manga and the feminist porn made by indie director Erika Lust.
At six 45-minute episodes, Planet Sex is hardly comprehensive, and it’s not meant to be. The show’s project is demystification through exposure, while also largely centering sexual minorities.
Throughout the series, Delevingne is confronted with unfamiliar concepts and experiences. Her discomfort is occasionally palpable, but she doesn’t allow that discomfort to provoke a knee-jerk reaction.
Not everything she explores in the show is for her, and it won’t be for everyone watching. But that’s part of what Planet Sex wants us to understand: It’s a wild, woolly world of sex out there, but our discomfort or unfamiliarity doesn’t necessarily have to lead to judgment.